Regatta Lepa water festival showcases the customs and traditions of the ‘Sea Gypsies‘.
Highlight includes a floating parade of colourful lepa boats, lepa boat racing and tug-of-war, beauty pageant and fireworks.
Takes place annually around mid to end April and lasts 2-3 days – check for the latest Regatta Lepa dates.
Semporna’s unique water festival
Held annually in Semporna since 1994, the Regatta Lepa water festival is one of the longest-running and most unique celebrations of its kind in Malaysia and Borneo.
The event pays homage to the unique lifestyle of the nomadic Bajau Laut (Sea Gypsies), whose cultural legacy has been handed down many generations.
The Regatta Lepa was declared a national festival in 2003 and attracts locals, foreigners and VIPs including heads of state.
Regatta Lepa festival highlights
The highlight of the festival is the floating parade of lepa boats. Each lepa represents a different family and village from the region.
Other highlights of the festival include marine sporting activities such as the:
- lepa tug of war;
- kelleh-kelleh (small dugout boat) race; and
- duck catching competition.
Celebrations extend into the night, with karaoke, cultural music and igal-igal dance performances, beauty contests, fireworks display and even a ‘Lepa Car’ competition held in Semporna’s stadium.
Most Semporna hotels are packed during the week leading up to the festival, so do make a reservation beforehand if you will be traveling here during this period of time.
A competition is held to pick the most beautifully decorated lepa. The winner stands to take home cash prizes and other goodies including speed boats, boat parts, trophies and certificates.
The winner is chosen based on their sambulayang (sails), tipas-tipas (triangular pennants), panji-panji (small rectangular flags) and traditional music and igal-igal dance performances.
Musicians and dancers aboard each lepa add to the vibrant atmosphere of this marine festival. For some amazing photo opportunities, get up close and personal with the action by renting a boat to follow the parade.
The Sea Gypsies are highly skilled at constructing lepa boats. Records show that the single-masted lepa sailboats have been used by seafarers in the region as early as the 14th century.
Much of the Bajau Laut’s lifestyle revolves around their lepa, which is used for permanent living as well as fishing, transportation and weddings.